Human Communication

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The Basic Course, 9/E
© 2002

Joseph A. DeVito 0-205-35390-8 Bookstore ISBN
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Nonverbal Messages

Unit Contents
Nonverbal Communication The Channels of Nonverbal Communication Culture and Nonverbal Communication

134 PART ONE Foundations of Human Communication

When you smile, nod your head in agreement, or wave your hand to someone, you’re communicating nonverbally. In fact, some researchers argue that you actually communicate more information nonverbally than you do with words. In this unit we explore this nonverbal communication system; here you’ll learn ◗ how nonverbal communication works and the various forms it takes ◗ how you can use these nonverbal channels to communicate your thoughts and feelings more effectively

Nonverbal communication is communication without words. You communicate nonverbally when you gesture, smile or frown, widen your eyes, move your chair closer to someone, wear jewelry, touch someone, or raise your vocal volume—and when someone receives these signals. Even if you remained silent and someone attributed meaning to your silence, communication would have taken place. If, on the other hand, you gestured or smiled and no one perceived these movements, then communication would not have taken place. This doesn’t mean that both sender and receiver have to give the same meanings to the signals (the gestures, the smile). It merely means that for communication to be said to have occurred, someone must send and someone must receive the message signals. Nonverbal messages may communicate specific meanings, just as verbal messages do; they may also metacommunicate, or communicate about other messages. Let’s look at each of these functions.

more than smile, and when your voice is without warmth, you’re using nonverbal signals to distance yourself from the other person. You can also use nonverbal messages to help. Gently touching an ill person’s face, hugging someone who’s in pain, or helping an old person walk are common examples. You use nonverbal messages to persuade; for example, when your posture and clothing communicate your self-confidence, when your steady gaze communicates conviction that you’re right, or when your facial expression communicates that the advertised product tastes great. Nonverbal messages may also be used to play. Tickling or playing patty-cake with a young child, making funny faces, and drawing cartoons are simple examples.

To Metacommunicate
Much of nonverbal communication, however, occurs in combination with verbal messages and serves a metacommunication function (see Unit 1). That is, nonverbal messages often comment on or communicate something about other messages (often verbal messages). Six general ways in which nonverbal communication blends with verbal communication have been identified and will illustrate the wide variety of metacommunication functions that nonverbal messages may serve (Knapp & Hall, 1997). Nonverbal messages are often used to accent or emphasize some part of the verbal message. You might, for example, raise your voice to underscore a particular word or phrase, bang your fist on the desk to stress your commitment, or look longingly into someone’s eyes when saying “I love you.” You use nonverbal communication to complement, to add nuances of meaning not communicated by your verbal message. Thus, you might smile when telling a story (to suggest that you find

To Communicate Meaning
Nonverbal messages may communicate the exact same meanings as verbal messages. The same purposes that were identified for communication in general (Unit 1) are served by...
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